By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
If you're a fan of Havre High or Chinook High School boys basketball, then you might want to bring your cameras to the Havre High gymnasium tonight. When the Ponies and Beeters tip off at 7:30 p.m., it will be the final meeting between the two schools as Chinook prepares to drop down to the Class C ranks next season.
Havre (6-1) blitzed the Beeters by 40 points in the season opener for both schools back in early December. Since that time, the Ponies have continued to play extremely well, losing only at Great Falls High just before the Christmas break.
Meanwhile, Chinook has won just one time this season, but the Beeters' losses have been much closer than the 40-point margin they suffered in their opener against Havre last month.
Chinook is coming off of a solid outing against District 2B Glasgow last Friday night, but did suffer a difficult loss at the hands of Class B defending champion Fairfield on Saturday night.
Coming into the series finale tonight, HHS first-year head coach John Barnhorst believes the Beeters are capable of playing well against his high-powerd Havre team, if they do a couple of key things.
"I think that handling our pressure is the key for any team to have success against us," Barnhorst said. "We were able to force Chinook into a lot of turnovers the first time around.
"We were also able to get some things going inside against them," he added. "I am sure they will put an emphasis on stopping our inside game and forcing us to make some shots from the perimeter."
Indeed, the Ponies have owned the paint as of recently. Senior Ty Hedalen and junior Jared Weigel have been giving the Ponies a solid front-line attack, and last Saturday in Butte they combined to score 40 points. Havre is also starting to get solid contributions from 6-7 junior Mike Barton, who is averaging over six points and five rebounds per contest coming off the bench.
Despite the difficult start Chinook has had to endure this season, the Beeters have also developed a solid inside presence in junior center Marty Birky.
Birky is averaging just under 20 points per game and is also the Beeters leading rebounder. What makes Birky so dangerous is his ability to knock down the outside jumpshot. Birky has hit three three-pointers in a game on two different occasions, making him a dangerous scoring threat. Chinook is also getting solid scoring from Adam Hayes and Chad Beck as well. Both players are averaging just over 10 points per outing.
While on paper the Beeters may not look like they have much of a chance in Havre tonight, the game will hold special meaning for those who partake in the last Havre/Chinook game. Barnhorst said that his team isn't taking the Beeters or the circumstances surrounding the matchup lightly.
"The special thing about these kids is that they just love to compete and they love to play basketball," Barnhorst said. "No matter who they play they understand how important it is to be focused. They just want to win every game. I know they won't settle for playing mediocre basketball and will be ready to go on Thursday night."
Tonight's matchup with Chinook is the first of three straight games for the Ponies. On Friday night, the Ponies will travel to Lewistown to battle the 2-5 Golden Eagles. Lewistown has just one conference win this season and has struggled against common opponents with Havre.
The Eagles lost to Butte Central by 28 points, while Havre is coming off of a 15-point win over the Maroons last in Butte last Saturday night. The Eagles defeated Class B Big Timber 57-49 on the same night. Lewistown is getting double-digit scoring from Junior Jeremy Olson as well as solid outside shooting from Mitch Braine and Brian Jeide.
While the Eagles have struggled the past two seasons, Barnhorst admitted that playing in Lewistown is never easy and the road trip will be tough for his team.
"I think that Lewistown does shoot the ball well from the outside and that makes them very dangerous," Barnhorst said. "This has become a very heated rivalry and they always seem to turn it up a notch when we come to their gym. I expect them to give us a very good game on Friday night."
After the trip to Lewistown, the Ponies will return home to host another team struggling to find its way this season. Havre will host Malta (2-5) at 5 p.m. on Saturday night, and like Lewistown, Barnhorst believes that the Mustangs could be another dangerous team on the horizon.
"We know that Malta is well-coached and will come in here and try to slow us down," Barnhorst said. "It doesn't look like they are playing very well right now, but they are another team who always seems to get up to play us."
The Mustangs are currently without last year's leading scorer and point-guard Bo Stiles, but they do return second-leading scorer John Gault as well as a solid inside presence in Tyler Sjostrom.
Although it looks like all three of Havre's opponents this weekend look to be overmatched, Barnhorst said that there are still plenty of things to be concerned with heading into the weekend.
"There is no question that we're playing well right now, but we need to get better," Barnhorst said. "We are more concerned with what we're doing and the areas where we need to be better.
"We are putting an emphasis this weekend on being a better rebounding team," he added. "And we need to be better in our half-court game offensively."
Tonight's series finale between Havre High and Chinook is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.